Ecclesiastes and Vanity of Life, Part 2
In our last article – the first in this series – we touched on the overall summation of Ecclesiastes, as well as the fact that it can first appear as though Solomon (the author), has had it with life in general and has come to a very low point because of it. What we learned (I hope) from that first article is that this is not the case at all.
In fact, we learned that rather than being depressive or frustrating, Solomon was using his God-given wisdom to point us to certain realities. If we hear, understand, and follow these realities, we will have a far better life here on earth.
We stopped our last article with verses 3 and 4 of Ecclesiastes 1. These two verses essentially set out to prove his thesis statement, all is vanity. Far from seeing this as thoroughly negative though, we need to realize that in proving his thesis statement, Solomon uses examples that, though they can be seen as negative, are actually pointing us to a greater understanding of life. The examples are there to show us what we waste energy on attempting to achieve.
I find it fascinating that when God created Adam and then Eve, they were both placed in the Garden of Eden. Their job was to tend the garden, to ensure that things continued to grow. While the job was to be taken seriously, it was probably not that difficult, certainly not compared to what life became for the two after they had fallen and were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Following this event, Adam and Eve learned about working into a sweat as well as experiencing the pain and fatigue that accompanies that type of hard work. Eve would also learn about the pain of childbirth. From what I’ve seen when my wife gave birth twice, it’s not pleasant. The rewards are great, but the actual childbirth itself does not appear to have been enjoyable.
We can assume had the two not fallen, several things would have been their experience.
- they would not have experienced any pain at all, even for Eve in childbirth
- they would not have experienced tiredness, fatigue and sweating
- they would not have aged
- working in the garden would have continued to be comparatively easy
Unfortunately, as we know, they did sin and pain, illness, and ultimately physical death followed their rebellious actions. But one thing they continued to do after they were ejected from the Garden of Eden and that was to farm the land. We know it was not as easy as it had been prior to the Fall, but that’s what they knew.
I have a sneaking suspicion that God originally intended everyone to be farmers and/or herders, or even a combination of both. We know that Abel had herds of animals of which he tended. Cain farmed the land. There was nothing wrong with either of these “career” choices. The fact that Cain brought the wrong offering is another story, but God’s rejection of his offering (vegetables) is not indicative of how God felt about gardening or farming. Cain could have traded vegetables for a proper animal to sacrifice from his brother and I’m sure Abel would have been open to that. Cain could not be bothered though.
But my point is that in those days, farming and herding animals was the way people lived. Because of this, people were self-sufficient in that they grew their own food and they had animals for milk and meat. If someone only farmed the land but wanted to eat meat every once in a while, it would have been easy enough to trade with neighbors.
However, ever since the Industrial Age, people have moved away from farming and herding. They began moving into cities or suburbs as well. They stopped being self-sufficient and became dependent upon corporations or even the government. This is very much true today. If the bottom fell out of the economy and food stopped filling the store shelves (not to mention whether people could afford to buy those same food items because of hyper-inflation), how would people survive? Many would turn to looting to get what they needed and wanted. The only people who would have a chance of surviving would be small farmers, people who have a few animals and grow their own vegetables, and…the Amish.
Historically, as long as farmers have been able to grow crops from which they could feed their livestock and families, they survive. Of course, if weather doesn’t cooperate, then even they have a problem and there are many examples of drought and other things that caused crops to fail in the Bible. However, in a perfect world, a person who grows their own food and herds their own animals (or can hunt like the Indians), they will not go hungry.
Since the dawn of the Industrial Age, people have yearned to have more than what they understood as their “lot in life.” Because of this, as technology has increased, there has been a tremendous growth in people who want to be millionaires, top executives of major companies, sought after singing artists, top-notch recognized actors, etc. This has become what is understood as the trappings of life.
Yet, in many ways, this mentality must have existed during Solomon’s day as well because in Ecclesiastes 1:3-4 he speaks of the endless cycle that each generation goes through as they exert and expend tremendous energy to be and do. In the end, they too die, as another generation comes up to replace them. It seems as though it is a lot of wasted energy, as far as Solomon is concerned. Let’s remember that Solomon is trying to support his thesis statement. He continues with verse 5-6.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets;
it hurries away to a place from which it rises again.
6 The wind goes to the south and circles around to the north;
round and round the wind goes and on its rounds it returns.
Yep, the sun “rises” every day and it also “sets.” We see it during the day as it appears to move across the sky, then hides behind the horizon as the sky grows dark. Another day has passed and tomorrow, another will also come and go. The wind goes here and there, blowing this way, blowing that and it too, has continued doing what it does since the beginning. Neither the sun nor the wind are respecter of persons. They have a job to do and they do them, without fretting, without worrying, without expending tremendous energy to do their jobs.
Solomon is presenting evidence from everyday life, from man’s perspective. It’s almost as if he asks, “Can a man with all the energy he can muster, stop the sun from rising or setting? Can man change the direction of the wind?” The answers are obvious for Solomon. These things happen as part of life. Verse 7 furthers the argument.
All the streams flow into the sea, but the sea is not full,
and to the place where the streams flow, there they will flow again.
Solomon’s point is that the waters flow from their source to the destination and yet waters flow back to the source and gain to their destination. How do these things occur? He hasn’t answered the question yet, but in many ways, I’m sure Solomon hoped that the answers would be obvious. These things happen by God’s hand. In fact, Jesus echoes these sentiments in the New Testament, which we’ll get to later.
After presenting these questions based on facts of nature, Solomon makes several statements in verse 8 that he hopes will cause people to stop and consider.
All this monotony is tiresome; no one can bear to describe it:
The eye is never satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear ever content with hearing.
It seems that people (represented by “the eye”) ignore this “monotony” by constantly striving for something more. Solomon is starting to point out how unsettled people are in general. He seems to think that we are unsettled because we are unable or unwilling to reconcile ourselves with the ebb and flow of life that God has given us. We are never happy with what God has given us to enjoy. That is seen with Adam and Eve who, though living in a perfect environment, still longed for the “grass” on the other side of the fence. Imagine if Adam and Eve had simply been content with their “lot in life.” Imagine how different things would be for us today, now.
As Solomon continues to offer substantiation for his thesis (“all is vanity”), he carefully lines up the arguments that help him unpack the truth so that we can see the same truth. He wants us to see and understand so that we are changed. By the way, there is a difference in improving your situation for yourself within your circumstances and constantly yearning for something that you do not possess that you feel you need to feel “complete.” We’ll talk about that as well in upcoming articles in this series.
Do you feel that much of life is monotonous? Do you find it difficult to simply accept your “lot in life”? Do you find yourself constantly striving to find “meaning” in life? Solomon does have the answers. They are there for the understanding if you will allow his words to speak to you. Does any of this have to do with what Jesus Himself teaches us in John 15 where He speaks of learning how to abide in Him?
We shall see.
Entry filed under: christianity, israel, Judaism, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation. Tags: abide in christ, abide in jesus, all is vanity, ecclesiastes, john 15, king solomon, solomon, utter futility.